The appointment of governors in Beirut and Mount Lebanon – posts that have been vacant for years and are crucial on election day – may be delayed by political bickering. President Michel Sleiman said on Friday he wants these important posts filled soon even as he signed a decree to appoint judges to long-vacant court positions, An-Nahar reported Monday.
The heads of Lebanon’s six governorates are integral to overseeing elections, and the absence of governors in Beirut and Mount Lebanon would add more stress on June 7 as Lebanon holds parliamentary elections in one day.
The governor is the point person for coordinating elections for the governorate. Before the election, the governor is one of the officials responsible for ensuring that voter registration lists are accurate. On election day, the governor supervises vote counting and is responsible for sending official vote totals from each district in the governorate to the Interior Ministry.
Governors also play a security role. They can order the Internal Security Forces to react to any violence in their territory. “They definitely do have a role in preserving law and order in the governorate,” explained Randa Antoun, a professor of Public Administration at the American University of Beirut.
Beirut has not had a governor since July 2005 when then-President Emile Lahoud tapped then-governor Yacoub Sarraf as Minister of Environment. (Sarraf resigned in November 2006 along with the cabinet’s five Shia ministers.) The post has been vacant since, as politicians could not agreement on Sarraf’s successor.
Mount Lebanon’s top post has had a rocky history. In 1999, a battle raged between Lahoud and Rafik Hariri, fresh off his first stint as prime minister, and Lahoud embarked on an anti-corruption campaign aimed at jailing Hariri’s allies and business partners. One target of that campaign was Mount Lebanon governor Mohammad Suhail Yamout, who had done business on Hariri’s behalf in Brazil. Yamout fled Lebanon in 1999 for Brazil to escape an arrest warrant. Yacoub Sarraf took over Yamout’s position as acting governor of Mount Lebanon in addition to being Beirut’s governor until he joined the cabinet in 2005. After Sarraf left, Adnan Dumayti was appointed but he soon left after butting heads with Lahoud.
Lebanon technically has eight governorates. In 2003 a law was passed to make the Akkar district of North Lebanon a separate governorate from the North, and to create a separate governorate for the Baalbek and Hermel districts. However, these new divisions only exist on paper, as the exact rules and regulations that dictate how they function have not been written, Antoun said. In calling to appoint governors for Beirut and Mount Lebanon, Sleiman did not mention the Akkar or Baalbek-Hermel governorates, but ministerial sources told As-Safir those appointments will be postponed.
Filling these important posts, however, is not expected to be done easily. In Lebanon’s recent history, crucial business goes undone almost as a rule as the country’s politicians argue and horse-trade.
“This will be exactly like the Constitutional Council,” said Antoine Saad, an expert in constitutional law. That election-related body has not functioned since 2005 as appointing its members is a point of contention on which the March 14 and opposition coalitions cannot agree.
The Beirut governor is traditionally an Orthodox Christian, and the Mount Lebanon post normally goes to a Sunni. Local media reported both Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and Druze members of the opposition support re-appointing Adnan Dumayti, a former Mount Lebanon governor. No word has emerged on who might take the governorship of Beirut.
Few aside from the president, however, have said much about the issue, so it is unclear exactly what the next steps will be. Both Sleiman and Interior Minister Ziad Baroud want smooth, transparent elections, so it seems the president, albeit gingerly, is drawing a line in the sand on this issue. Sleiman succeeded in his effort to ban political posters from Beirut following his election in May 2008, but whether or not he can impose his will here – given the length of time these posts have been vacant – remains to be seen.